One night several years ago, my father was listening to a classical music show on CBC Radio. A song came on as I was passing through the room, and I was mesmerized. I could tell it was a Renaissance or Baroque piece – one of my favorite periods – from its style. The singer’s voice was lovely and smooth, without being too light. I wondered if it might be a countertenor, because it had a hint of darkness – a high-male quality – to it.
Transfixed, I listened through to the end, hoping I would hear the name of the singer. I was astonished to learn it was one of my favorite mezzo-sopranos, Anne Sofie von Otter. I loved her recordings so much, I immediately went out and bought this one.
The song that I had been so fascinated with became one of my favorite pieces, and I hunted down the sheet music so that I could bring it to my singing lessons. It was one of the very last songs I was working on when I stopped taking lessons altogether in the summer of 2006.
I remember my teacher at the time prodding me to find more excitement in my interpretation of the music and lyrics. The song – Henry Purcell's An Evening Hymn – was about the soul finding security in God’s arms. I wasn’t too jazzed about the text – it was the music that I really loved – and I guess it was coming through in my expression and body language.
So I took my teacher’s advice to heart and sat down with the words, trying to find some personal meaning that could match my passion for the soaring musical runs of the “Hallelujahs.”
Now, now that the sun hath veil’d his light
And bid the world goodnight;
To the soft bed my body I dispose,
But where shall my soul repose?
Dear, dear God, even in Thy arms,
And can there be any so sweet security!
Then to thy rest, O my soul!
And singing, praise the mercy
That prolongs thy days.
I started with a suggestion from my teacher: How much did I love my bed? The answer was, “a lot.” At the end of the day, when I’m tired and I’ve had it, my bed is the sweetest thing.
Well then, what would be the equivalent feeling of rest and security for my soul?
I imagined being wrapped in the arms of a love so secure, so ever-lasting, that I could completely relax, and finally rest. For me, home is a place with that much security.
Is there anywhere that you feel that secure? If not, what would it take to find or make such a place?
Details from the art journal spread The world goodnight, inspired by the song An Evening Hymn by Henry Purcell. Wax crayon and collage on paper, July 2006.